Relationships in the Workplace and How to Handle Them

Relationships in the workplace are inevitable in most large companies. They can bring joy to many, but also run the risk of disrupting the workplace.

Considering the amount of time the majority of the population spends within offices with the same people, there is a likely chance of some relationships in the workplace forming. The factor of living distance most likely being similar, as well as people sharing a commonality being in the same company adds to this. A study of nearly 200 full-time workers in a variety of workplaces indicates that most employees have no issues with a visible romantic relationship developing between two unmarried colleagues.

However, there were clear objections to romances between supervisors and direct reports, as well as workplace relationships between co-workers in which one or both co-workers are married to someone else. Whatever your personal opinion on dating, sex, and/or romance within the office, with heightened emotions comes an increased chance of damage to productivity. Here are a couple of steps you can take to manage any workplace relationship which may be impacting an employee's work.

Create a policy for relationships in the workplace

Without a clear policy there is the possibility of workplace relationships leading to charges of sexual harassment, and legal consequences for the employer. Therefore, it is important that your employees have a guide to follow in order to avoid liability. Here are a couple of types of policies that you may want to implement:

1. No Dating Policy

Most no-dating policies ban dating between supervisors and their direct reports. These are usually put in place to guide employees in creating a legal, ethical, and harmonious workplace. Supervisors who are romantically involved with a direct report can create problems. The relationship could hugely influence the utilization of talents or promotion of individuals in relation to favouritism, or in the other direction purposely not promote an employee in order to avoid visible favouritism. Furthermore, the chance of discrimination lawsuit increases if a situation occurs where an employee from a former relationship is fired.

2. Fraternization Policy

If workplace relationships are not prohibited, it may prove useful to set up a fraternization policy - in other words, guidelines as to what is appropriate in the workplace. This of course is hugely dependent on your company culture. Employees need to be informed as to what behaviour is deemed inappropriate so they can be trained accordingly. Relationships that turn sour at most times are public affairs that therefore not only influence the employees involved but their colleagues too.

3. Love Contract

This is a contract written up by management and signed by the employees in the romantic relationship to state that the relationship between the co-workers is consensual, and it has and will be undertaken within the guidelines of the company's fraternization policy. This will also contain guidelines on expected behaviour if the relationship ends, such as refraining from any acts of retaliation that impacts the workplace.

4. Notification Policy

This policy requires employees to notify their supervisors whenever they enter a consensual workplace relationship. It helps protect the company from later charges that the workplace relationship was not consensual. The supervisors in this case must protect the privacy of the employees involved.

Nonetheless, sometimes workplace romances are inevitable and you need to know how to minimize the possible damage to you and your colleagues if you find yourself falling for a co-worker. Here are a couple of tips.

What to do if you are involved in a relationship in the workplace

  • Follow your company's relationship policies.
  • Keep the relationship discreet in the workplace.
  • Act professionally in the workplace and do not allow the relationship to impact your work negatively.
  • Discuss with your partner the potential impact of the relationship on your work, and the potential fallout. Prepare for this by making a plan before the company requests one.
  • If you’re required to report the relationship to HR, do so and keep them in the loop.
  • Enjoy your relationship and build one that adds value to the company and the world.
  • Do not have sex in the toilets.

What to do if you are involved in a relationship in the workplace

Other than the guidance given above, it's crucial you educate your employees on your sexual harassment policies, and in who they should report any allegations to. As a company you should strive to create a safe place for your employees to enjoy their lives as well as work. You should give employees the ability to report inappropriate behaviour, but also the ability to create healthy relationships in the workplace.

Henry Watson

Henry Watson

Employee Experience Champion

3 minute readPublished on August 28, 2019

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